On 19 April, Access Partnership attended the conference on “International Perspectives on Blockchain Technology & Cryptocurrencies” hosted by techUK in London. Attended by fintech companies, law firms and international investors, the event focused on demystifying the blockchain ecosystem for non-experts, discussing how it can be used by governments to impact society projects and how regulators around the world should respond to the rapid advent of these new technologies.
Blockchain playing an increasingly important role in UK
The event was opened by Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Matt Hancock, who explained that blockchain is playing an increasingly important role in UK public life in three main ways: through the finance sector; through government adoption to improve services; and through laws and regulations. Government departments like the Department for International Development (DFID) are using blockchain to track spending in development projects in order to cut corruption and inefficiency, he said, while urging lawmakers to be alert to innovation and its potential to improve quality of life. Hancock’s parting message was that history is marked by rises in new technology, and that the winners are those who can harness it for the whole society.
Natively digital Estonia has put 99% of government and administration services online
Peter Ferry, the Honorary Consul of Estonia and founder of Wallet.Services, argued that blockchain is a valuable disruptor that cuts out the middle man and can build trust and security in e-government. In the “natively digital” Estonia, he said, 99% of government and administrative services are online, saving each citizen an average of one week of time each year not spent doing tax returns, registering for a passport or using other services; time which can be used more valuably elsewhere. Ferry argued that blockchain plays an important role in enabling this system, and Estonia’s example should be a strong incentive for other countries to follow suit.
Using blockchain for seamless disembarking in Dubai Airport
Paul Ferris, the CEO of ObjectTech, focused on the use of blockchain in Dubai Airport. They aim to provide a seamless disembarking procedure in the airport by 2020, allowing 20 million passengers each month to go straight to baggage claim without any passport control because they will have submitted their details beforehand. Using 100% biometric face recognition technology, authorities will automatically give passengers e-identities. From there, the idea is to expand this to banks, medical services, and others (if Dubai’s authorities have validated your identity, then a local bank should be able to trust this and give you a loan without needing to see your passport, as this technology is better than KYC). By extension, if Dubai Airport is doing this, other international airports may have to follow suit. Notably, the conference didn’t focus on potential negative implications of this technology, such as tracking people who have not given their consent by governments around the world.
Decentralised by design, there is an inbuilt discord with trying to regulate cryptocurrencies
Finally, one issue discussed throughout the day included the regulation of cryptocurrencies and blockchain in key countries around the world. While many still have no clear direction towards regulating crypto, others, such as China, have firmly clamped down on all cryptocurrencies by banning ICOs and bitcoin miners. Since cryptocurrencies are meant to be decentralised by design, there is an inbuilt discord in trying to regulate them through a centralised national system, let alone crypto complying with different laws around the world. Regulators and fintech companies have to grapple with this issue every day, but the conference seemed to agree that as consumer trust of blockchain and cryptocurrencies rises, regulators will have to catch up and ensure that the potential of this technology is harnessed – even if they don’t know how yet.
Author: Simona Lipstaite, International Public Policy Manager, Access Partnership